Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


Tips for Transitioning to Off-Campus Housing when You're Blind/Visually Impaired
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February 9, 2017 by Mir Ali

By Miso Kwak, Guest Blogger   During college, we learn how to be better students, both through academic courses and extracurricular activities. But college also gives us the unique opportunity to think ahead and practice for life in “the real world.” Whether your goal is to pursue further higher education or to find work, you are more likely to have to live on your own – not just away from home but also out of the traditional college dormitory setting. I encourage everyone to consider living off campus if the opportunity arises during your undergraduate career. Here are some tips for preparing to make that transition.

1. Learn the necessary living skills.

Students on SubwayUnlike living in the dormitory where you most likely have access to college dining hall and maintenance staff, living in an off-campus housing means you are on your own to cook and clean. While you don’t have to be an expert at these tasks, it is helpful to be competent in them. Summer, short-term programs offered to blind young adults or longer blindness skills training could be an excellent way to gain such skills. For whatever reason, if you don’t want to or are unable to attend such programs, ask your family to help you learn these skills. Personally, I attended a summer program at Colorado Center for the Blind before starting college and occasionally asked my mom to show me how to cook, which helped to make that transition easier for me.

2. Get to know the neighborhood in advance.

The idea is similar to getting oriented to your campus as a freshman. If possible, walk around and learn a few routes that may come handy (such as grocery store and nearby bus stop) from the place you will be living. For instance, I asked a friend to show me the route between the main part of the campus and my soon-to-be apartment along with nearby bus stops and street names a few months in advance. Feeling confident about the surroundings relieved my anxiety, which was especially heightened during my first few days in my new apartment.

3. If possible, find roommates you feel comfortable living with.

Unlike being assigned to a random roommate as a freshman entering the college dormitory, you are more likely to have the option to find your own roommates. Take advantage of this situation and reach out to your circle of friends, some of whom may be looking for roommates themselves. Although I felt comfortable with my surroundings, I was apprehensive about a lot of other things leading up to and during the first few months of living on my own. What if I undercook my meat? What if I miss a spot while cleaning? Knowing that my roommate would not be judgemental about such incidents was comforting and relieved my anxiety significantly.

4. Don’t be afraid.

It is okay if you feel that you may not be successful in mastering new responsibilities. It is okay even if you end up burning your pan or getting lost in the new neighborhood (I have done both!). Don’t be afraid to try out new recipes and venture out to discover local shops and restaurants. After all, becoming an adult involves trial and error for everyone, blind or sighted. We should just enjoy the process and grow from our mistakes. Miso Walking with CaneMiso Kwak is a senior at UCLA majoring in Psychology and double minoring in Disability Studies and Education. She works as a student blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and is involved in the Undergraduate Students Association Council as a representative for the Committee on Disability. She is also a longtime member of Learning Ally's College Success Program and serves as the student voice on our 2016-2017 CSP Advisory Panel. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the flute and spending time with family and friends. To find out more about Learning Ally's free College Success Program for blind or visually impaired students, log onto LearningAlly.org/CollegeSuccess   Read More about Tips for Transitioning to Off-Campus Housing when You're Blind/Visually Impaired

Parent Chat: Should My Child With Reading Struggles Repeat a Grade?
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February 9, 2017 by Mir Ali

It's a topic that arises from time to time on our Learning Ally Parent Chat - should I hold my child who has a learning disability back one year?  Frustrated Student Here are some recent answers from parents discussing the topic. Names changed for privacy:  Susan: "I've yet to see retention improve a dyslexic child's reading and writing. More of the same isn't the answer." Jill: "The gap widens as your child gets older if you don't provide the right interventions. By 4th grade the children are reading to learn instead of learning to read. Retention isn't the best option. The right interventions are. Accommodations will become more important as your child gets older. I'd suggest focusing on these factors instead of retaining your child. It could cause emotional harm in the long run." Anne: "Perhaps your IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) team needs to evaluate his goals so that more progress can be made. You have pretty good info right now that says he is not closing the gap." Jennifer: "I have a student currently that repeated 1st grade with the same teacher. The results were the same as her first time around." Molly: "My question is how is he doing social/emotionally? Does he view the group of students he is with as his peers? Or is he always playing with the students that are a grade younger? My personal belief is retention based on academic gains alone is NOT best for students. The exception is if a student is not keeping up emotionally/socially. That is actually the standard for my children's district (regardless of IEP or not.)" LA-2175_LRAmber: "I am not totally against retention in certain circumstances. If you have a summer birthday child who is the youngest in the room or if there are global maturity issues AND the repeated year will be at a different school with a TOTALLY different approach. The problem with retention is the goals are adjusted backwards to the repeated grade and because you child will likely not be as far behind they will get less services. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting different results." Lori: "I am very surprised to hear most parents are against this. Retention was the best decision we ever made. We made the decision along with the school. It was a hard decision to make, for sure. It was tough on my child for the first few months, but she persevered and is doing very well." Jodan: "Agree ... Parents know best. Period. Retention or even just redshirting (which is holding them back from kindergarten) is a tough choice. It's not so much the retention itself that raises a flag for me ... It's the persistent gap. Because if you don't tweak the intervention and the AT ... Holding back for a year will only be a temporary, superficial solution." Allison: "Repeating a grade is one of the risk factors for teens dropping out of school. Keep him with his peers and remediate and accommodate. Repeating does more harm than good in the long run." Natalie: "The good thing about dyslexia, when a child receives good dyslexia instruction, they start making leaps and bounds of reading growth. You need to be aware of grade level ranges for reading material. Depending on the measurement system, your child's grade level of reading can be very subjective. Remember, you are the only person on the IEP team not judged by your child reading the goals that were set each year." Learning Ally LogoWhat do you think? Comment below with your experience and/or advice. Need more information about dyslexia or related learning disabilities? Log onto LearningAlly.org.  Read More about Parent Chat: Should My Child With Reading Struggles Repeat a Grade?

Apply for a College Scholarship Specifically for Learning Ally Members
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February 8, 2017 by Aaron Muckin

Each year, Learning Ally offers two endowed scholarship awards for outstanding students with print and learning disabilities. College Students The Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Award (LTL) is granted to members who are high school seniors with learning disabilities in recognition of academic achievement, outstanding leadership, and service to others. Likewise, the Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Award (SAA) goes to outstanding college students who are blind or visually impaired. The top three winners from each category receive a $6,000 scholarship award and participate at a national celebration in Denver, Colorado. The recipients of these awards are role models of success and inspiration to students throughout the country.

We are currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 awards.

To apply for the Learning Through Listening Award, eligible students will be:
  • Current Learning Ally members who have a specific learning disability
  • A current high school senior planning to graduate with the class of 2016
  • Planning to continue their formal education at a two or four-year college or vocational school
  • Willing to represent Learning Ally as a spokesperson and advocate
See the full list of eligibility requirements and apply here. Deadline is May 31, 2017. Apply For Scholarship To apply for the Scholastic Achievement Award, eligible students will be:
  • Current Learning Ally members who are blind or visually impaired
  • A current college senior or graduate school student
  • Willing to represent Learning Ally as a spokesperson and advocate
See the full list of eligibility requirements and apply here. Deadline is May 31, 2017. Apply For Scholarship Emily DalyOne of our 2016 winners, Emily Daly, is a freshman at Notre Dame University. She is profoundly dyslexic and dysgraphic, and was told in childhood that she would never learn to read. As the winner of numerous school and literary awards, Emily has helped her teachers see that students with learning differences can succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
“I am the girl who chooses to study harder, to love more deeply, and to squeeze every ounce of joy out of life that I can,” she says. “With the help of Learning Ally, I have learned to turn my disability into strength."
Watch her highlight video below: Read More about Apply for a College Scholarship Specifically for Learning Ally Members

Giving Blind and Visually Impaired High Schoolers a Head Start on the College Experience
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January 31, 2017 by Mir Ali

Guest Blog by Tovah Miller, Perkins College Success Program Director There’s no place more energizing than a college campus. However, many colleges fall short when it comes to accessibility for students with visual impairment. That’s why college can be challenging – physically, socially and academically – for these young adults.
In fact, according to the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2), 6 out of 10 visually impaired students do not graduate.
Perkins - Grousbeck Center at nightCollege is a whole new world – and, in many cases, it’s the first time a young adult is away from home and on their own (i.e., without the day-to-day support of parents, family and a network of educators). That means arranging for necessary accommodations, signing up for their own classes, managing their own schedules – plus the added responsibilities of laundry, shopping for food, cooking and cleaning, as well as the rigors and realities of everyday life.

“You’re responsible for yourself – there’s no one to fall back on.”

Meet Adam. He’s a current college senior who is visually impaired. Adam is doing well in school now, but acknowledges that he faced some challenges along the way. When asked about what it was like early on – and some of the things that surprised him – he shared this insight: Advocating for the proper accommodations “In high school, it was easier for me because my parents worked things out with the school – they were the ones to push to get what I needed. When I got to college, they were no longer there. It became my responsibility. I had to figure out quickly what I needed and what I needed to say. Sometimes you’ll hear ‘no’ for something you need and think they shouldn’t be able to tell you no. You need to work your way through – it’s another hurdle you need to overcome.” Balancing free time and academic responsibilities “College is different – you have two or three classes a day, maybe four if you have a really tough schedule. Then the rest of your day is free to manage your time how you want to manage it. It’s much less structured. You’re more independent… but you also have a lot more homework and you’re the one managing your time. There’s no teacher emailing you or calling your parents to say you’re not doing well or completing assignments on time. You’re responsible for yourself – there’s no one to fall back on.” Living with roommates “Living on my own in a dorm was… interesting at first. I definitely was pretty shocked by the amount of independence you really needed – especially learning to live with other people and learning to be independent while adapting to those other people. I wasn’t prepared to have to accommodate for them as well as explain to them how they could be accommodating to me. Just living all together in harmony like that was something I was not ready for.”

Preparing the Foundation for Success in College

The statistics are sobering and there are certainly challenges – but with the right approach, a solid plan and the right resources, a successful outcome is within reach. Perkins - students in classWith that in mind, Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts just launched College Success @ Perkins, a selective, nine-month residential program for college-bound high school graduates – as well as students who have spent time in college and want to hone their skills so they can return ready to succeed. The program provides a solid path for these students to continue their academic success while preparing for success in college, career and life. College Success @ Perkins, which kicks off in September 2017, is designed to help young adults who are blind or visually impaired make the most of their time in college. Participating students will have the chance to experience campus life in Boston, take college courses for credit, refine self-advocacy and essential independent living skills, navigate the social aspects of dorm living, master the latest mainstream and assistive technologies, create meaningful connections, and get exposure to influencers at top local companies. The program was specifically designed with an emphasis on: •         Giving students an edge: Students will earn credits, become accustomed to the daily routines of campus life – and enter their freshman year fully prepared. •         Building the foundation for a successful college experience: A defined application process and individualized support will ease – and ensure – the path to college admission. •         Focusing on the individuals: The program will be tailored to each student’s unique needs. •         Availability of financing: Perkins is working closely with state vision rehabilitation agencies to ensure this program qualifies for Pre-ETS funding.

A True College Experience – Both On Campus and Off!

Students on the subwayThis is an experience for the student, driven by the student. The curriculum encourages both academic and personal growth – in addition to core classes, students will have a wide selection of fun elective courses and seminars to choose from. With Boston’s highly accessible public transportation system (including buses, subways and even ferries) just steps away from Perkins, students will also have the run of one of America’s best college towns – from afternoons at Fenway and evening concerts on the Charles River to shopping at the local mall and making quick latte stops at Starbucks. As part of the program, every student also gets a membership to Boston Sports Clubs – providing access to basketball, swimming, running, cycling, Zumba, yoga and more…whenever the urge strikes.

The Bottom Line: With Preparation, the Sky is the Limit

The potential for an amazing, successful college experience is there – and College Success @ Perkins is built to help young adults who are blind and visually impaired tap into that potential. College is the next step they’ve been waiting for – the chance to make new friends, pursue studies that will lead to careers and live on their own. It’s all about new beginnings, exciting opportunities and breaking free to discover who they really are. College Success @ Perkins will make that experience worth the wait. Want to learn more? Program details – as well as an application – can be found at www.Perkins.org/College. For additional questions, please contact Tovah Miller, program director, at CollegeSuccess@Perkins.org or 617-972-7728. Want to check it out for yourself? On Thursday, April 13th, Perkins will be hosting an open house reception from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend for an opportunity to tour the living spaces and state-of-the-art campus, as well as meet with students, faculty and administrators. To register for the open house, click here. Learning Ally is a partner of Perkins School for the Blind offering audiobooks and support. The national nonprofit also offers it's own College Success Program for blind/visually impaired college students nationwide. To find out more about Learning Ally, log onto Learning Ally.org. Read More about Giving Blind and Visually Impaired High Schoolers a Head Start on the College Experience

Mastering Your Own College Education: Study Tips for Students Who Learn Differently
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January 19, 2017 by Mir Ali

With our tech-obsessed society becoming more and more fast-paced, college students have a wide array of options. However, sometimes it can be beneficial for students with learning disabilities to slow down, especially when it comes to studying for college exams. Whether students attend a traditional brick and mortar school or complete courses online, they can choose any method of study that fits their busy schedules.  Here are some ideas to keep your study time efficient and effective.

Studying in Increments

College StudentMost people will tell you that it's not good to cram the day before a big exam, and that is especially true for students with learning differences. Just as extra-time accommodations level the playing field on exams, spacing your studying out over time will give you an edge in the classroom. Students can take in small blocks of information within a few days, or studying in chunks as the course continues. Make sure you really focus on the material and absorb the facts and meanings behind them. This is a great way to study for mathematics or engineering material, especially if you are working toward a masters in civil engineering online or in your college.

Where You Study Matters

Some people may not think of their environment much when pulling out a textbook, but the place you study in is just as important as how you study. Be sure to pick a quiet place to study for your exams. Good areas to get in some efficient study time are quiet offices, coffee shops, the library, or even your bedroom (as long as no one else is around and your door is closed). Don't try to study in the main living room of your home if you have roommates, and crowded supermarkets or restaurants are also bad places due to the many distractions they house.

Flash Cards

flash cardsFlash cards are a short, great, and to-the-point way to retain information when you're studying for your next exam. You can typically write questions on the front of the card and the answers on the back, allowing a friend to read them to you. These are great ways to keep your memory fresh especially when it comes to important information. It's a great way to cover only the most crucial material that should appear in the exam. Remember that these are only a few methods of studying for on-the-go students. Many other methods may also work just as well. All students, but especially those with learning disabilities, must remember that it's important to always study for a big exam, and not at the last minute. It's always important to study for at least a few hours for several days in order to properly prepare for any important exam.   Eileen in a SweaterEileen O'Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy. For more information on studying for higher education like a civil engineering masters degree be sure to talk to counselor at your college.       Read More about Mastering Your Own College Education: Study Tips for Students Who Learn Differently